New poll shows Dems have a WILDLY pessimistic view of racial progress in America

Ignoring the progress that we've made distracts us from focusing on the issues that we still need to work on. 

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described his dream “that [his] four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Nearly 60 years later, not all Americans think we’ve made progress toward this dream. 

Pew Research recently asked Americans how much progress we have made regarding racial equality since 1963. The results showed that only 52% of adults believed we have made “a great deal/fair amount of progress.” When this statistic is further broken down, it shows that 67% of Republicans believe we have made substantial progress in “ensuring equal rights for all people in the U.S., regardless of race or ethnicity” in the last six decades—but only 38% of Democrats agree. 

This result may likely be due to the question’s wording, as many Americans confuse the term “equal rights” with the vague term “racial equality,” which is the term Pew Research used to headline its findings  Does it mean the equal protection of rights under the law? Does it mean that our culture embraces individualism? Or does it mean a closing of statistical gaps when it comes to racial outcomes and performance?

For those who believed this to mean equal protection under the law, we have substantially improved protecting all Americans’ rights by law. 

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act ended “Jim Crow” laws in the American South, which legally segregated facilities such as restrooms, barbers, telephone booths, and schools by race.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act enforced the 14th Amendment and guaranteed equal protection under the law by protecting all Americans’ right to vote. In 1967, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Loving vs. Virginia decriminalized interracial marriage in all 50 states. 

In addition to passing laws that protected all races’ rights, our culture has shifted towards being more colorblind. In 1958, nine years before the ruling in Loving vs. Virginia, only 4% of Americans approved of interracial marriage. In 2021, a Gallup poll showed that 94% of Americans now support interracial marriages.

Similarly, in 1958, only 37% of Americans would have supported a black president. This number increased to 79% in 1987 and 95% in 1999. In 2008, we had our first black president of the United States, Barack Obama. Today,  1/4 of Congress is nonwhite, which would not have been possible 60 years ago.

Finally, if we look at statistical disparities, we can see that gaps in outcomes are closing. In 1979, the American middle class was overwhelmingly white at 84%. By 2019, the middle class had become much more racially diverse, at approximately 59% white. In addition, the white vs. nonwhite education achievement gap has been closing steadily since the 1970s, with both black and Hispanic students performing better than their parents did in school.

No matter how responders view this poll question, it is clear that we have made significant progress in the last 60 years. During the Civil Rights era, I wouldn’t have been able to sit where I am now and write this article due to the laws and cultural climate. 

To be clear, this cultural and political progress doesn’t mean we live in a racism-free society. Racial tribalism still exists, but ignoring the progress that we’ve made distracts us from focusing on the issues that we still need to work on. 

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Kiyah Willis
Kiyah Willis
Kiyah Willis is a fellow at BASEDPolitics.